Atherosclerosis Definition

Atherosclerosis is a medical term used for a condition in which the arteries become narrowed and hardened because of the development of plaque around the walls of the artery. This condition is also known as arteriosclerotic vascular disease.

It is a condition in which the flow of blood around the body gets disrupted, posing the risk of serious complications. The artery is the blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the other parts of the body. 

A thin layer of cells present in the arteries makes them smooth and allows the blood to flow smoothly. These thin layers of cells are called the endothelium. Atherosclerosis affects the endothelium by damaging it, allowing the harmful cholesterol to develop in the artery walls.

White blood cells are responsible for cleaning up the cholesterol, but in some cases, these cells get stuck at the site of infection in the artery. With the increase with time, plaque develops that are made of cholesterol, macrophages, calcium, and other substances from the blood.

Plaques sometimes stop growing from a specific size, causing no problem to the person, but sometimes the plaque clogs up the artery that disturbs the flow of blood around the body. This causes blood to clot, which can be life-threatening.

In other conditions, such as when the plaques break and start to open, the platelets gather in the infected area forming blood to clot. This can block the artery resulting in life-threatening complications. 

A single major clot can affect the entire artery tree. It may also result in hypertension and other complications, such as heart attacks, strokes, and cardiovascular diseases like peripheral vascular disease.

What Does Stats Say About Atherosclerosis?

Atherosclerosis is a chronic inflammatory disease that is responsible for about 50% of all deaths in westernized society. In the United States, around 610,000 people die because of heart disease, out of which 1 in every 4 deaths is caused due to such coronary heart disease. 

It is responsible for 37,000 people deaths in the western world. An average of 735,000 Americans had a heart attack every year in which 525,000 experienced an initial attack, and 210,000 people have a recurrent attack. 

Reports estimate that 795,000 people suffer a stroke every year in the United States, leading to 140,323 deaths.

Atherosclerosis may lead to coronary heart disease and heart diseases. In the U.S, 25% of the deaths are caused due to coronary heart disease; more than 800,000 Americans suffer from heart disease every year. Heart disease is also considered the apex killer in women as compared to men.

What Are The Symptoms Of Atherosclerosis?

The initial atherosclerosis symptoms start to develop during adolescence, with streaks of white blood cells developing on the artery walls. Usually, people don’t show signs until a plaque ruptures or the flow of blood is restricted. 

When these conditions are reached, symptoms start developing more efficiently, which generally takes many years to occur.

These symptoms depend on the affected artery which is explained below:-

  • Carotid arteries: Carotid arteries are responsible for supplying oxygenated blood to the brain. On affecting this, it can lead to a stroke, and a person may also experience a range of atherosclerosis symptoms, such as:-
  • Weakness
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Severe headache
  • Loss of vision
  • Facial numbness
  • Paralysis
  • Coronary arteries: These arteries are responsible for the supply of blood to the heart affecting which can lead to angina and heart attack and the symptoms involved in this are as follows:-
  • Vomiting
  • Extreme anxiety
  • Pain in the chest or the upper body
  • Arrhythmia
  • Coughing
  • Feeling of faint
  • Renal arteries: Renal arteries are responsible for supplying blood to the kidneys, limiting which can cause severe risk of developing chronic kidney disease. People suffering from such disease may experience symptoms, such as:-
  • Loss of appetite
  • Swelling of the hands and feet
  • Difficulty in concentrating
  • High blood pressure
  • Kidney failure

Atherosclerosis Diagnosis

The worst thing about atherosclerosis is the victim will not be able to identify the symptoms at their initial stage until the cardiovascular disease develops. 

The diagnosis for atherosclerosis is based on medical history, some medical test results, and physical exams that are explained below:-

  • Blood Tests: These tests are performed to know the composition of sugar, fat, and protein in the blood. An increased amount of fat and sugar increases the risk of developing atherosclerosis. Therefore, it is essential to determine the blood content.
  • Physical exam: In the process of examining the patient physically, the doctor wil start the diagnosis using a stethoscope to listen to the arteries trying to find any unusual whooshing sound. This sound gives an idea to the doctor about any obstruction to the blood flow.

Some arteries do not get detected sometimes, such as the weak pulses located below the area of the artery that has narrowed and may cause abnormally low blood pressure.

You can identify the aneurysm if you have a pulsating bulge behind the knee or in the abdomen. It is important to such medical conditions as it restricts the flow of blood, causing difficulty in your healing process.

  • Ultrasound: The primary key to identify the symptoms of atherosclerosis is to identify the area where the blood pressure high that happens usually due to blockage. 

Ultrasound is a technique that is used to examine the blood pressure at distinct parts of the body. It can identify the part of the body if it has high blood pressure.

  • CT scan: A CT scan or magnetic resonance angiography(MRA) is mainly performed to look for hardened or narrowed arteries.

Atherosclerosis Treatment

People who have atherosclerosis will likely be told by the doctor to develop a healthy lifestyle, including a healthy diet to maintain a healthy weight. 

But in some cases, based on the condition of the patient, the doctor may also ask you to go for medication or surgery, such as:-

  • Healthy lifestyle: A healthy lifestyle involves weight management, physical activity, and a healthy diet. The doctor may suggest you consume foods that are rich in soluble fibers and may also ask you to make some limitations, such as avoiding saturated fats, sodium, and alcohol.
  • Medication: Antiplatelet drugs can be used to prevent the development of plaque or help in avoiding blood to clot. There are other medicines, such as statins that are prescribed in order to lower the cholesterol and angiotensin-converting enzyme(ACE) inhibitors lowering the blood pressure.
  • Surgery: Some cases, such as severe atherosclerosis that cannot be treated entirely with a healthy lifestyle and medication, need surgery. Therefore operations are performed, such as angioplasty or coronary artery bypass grafting(CABG).
  • Angioplasty and stenting is a medical procedure in which the artery is expanded in order to clear the blockage to let the blood flow properly again.

In this process, the doctor will insert a thin tube into an artery of your legs or arms to get diseased arteries viewing the blockage on the X-ray screen. 

Stenting can ease the symptoms of atherosclerosis, but it cannot prevent heart attack. CABG is another surgical procedure to improve the flow of blood to the heart using arteries from different parts of the blood to bypass a narrowed coronary artery.

  • Bypass surgery is a procedure in which the doctor takes a healthy blood vessel from your leg or chest and uses it by passing it through a blocked segment.
  • Endarterectomy is a medical procedure in which the doctor goes into the arteries in the neck to remove plaque and restore the flow of blood.
  • Fibrinolytic therapy is a type of treatment in which a drug is used to dissolve the blood clot that’s blocking the artery.

Also Read: Ever Heard Of Patent Ductus Arteriosus(PDA)?

Preventive Measures For Atherosclerosis

Taking preventive measures is the best way to deal with atherosclerosis that involves specific steps, such as:-

  • Diet: Fats play a vital role in the development of atherosclerosis. Therefore doctors recommend avoiding consuming saturated fats as they increase the level of bad cholesterol. The foods that are mentioned below are rich in saturated fats and can keep the level of bad cholesterol low.
  • Olive oil
  • Avocados
  • Walnuts
  • Oily fish
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Exercise: Regular exercise can improve the flow of blood, fitness level, weight loss, and also it lowers blood pressure.
  • No Smoking: Smoking increases the risk of developing atherosclerosis because it increases blood pressure. People who smoke should quit smoking and do not forget to consult a doctor to overcome the harmful effects of it.

What Causes Atherosclerosis?

Atherosclerosis is a medical term used to define a condition in which the artery becomes narrow and hard, blocking the flow of blood. Arteries are blood veins that are responsible for carrying blood from the heart to different parts of the body. 

These veins have a thin layer of cells known as the endothelium. It provides these veins a proper shape and smoothness for blood flow.

The cause of atherosclerosis is when these thin layers called endothelium to get damaged. This damage is caused due to the following reasons:-

  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Inflammation, such as arthritis or lupus
  • Obesity or diabetes
  • Habit of smoking

The damage to the endothelium causes the plaques to develop on the walls of the artery. Whenever lousy cholesterol or LDL crosses the damaged endothelium, it gets entered into the walls of the artery.

With the increase with time, these depositions become plaque in the walls causing difficulty in the flow of blood.

These plaques create a bump on the artery walls, and with the increase in severity, these bumps increase, which gets more prominent enough with time, causing a blockage in the blood flow.

Such blockage puts the heart at risk increases the chance of stroke and other health complications. Therefore, atherosclerosis doesn’t cause early symptoms because the symptoms start to show from or after the middle stage of the deposition of plaque.

It narrows the blood vessel causing a severe problem and can also choke off blood flow, causing pain. Sometimes these blockages caused due to the deposition of plaques can rupture, resulting in blood clots inside the artery at the site of rupture.

Risk Factors Linked With Atherosclerosis 

The researchers say that atherosclerosis generally occurs at a young age and has also found that teenagers can also have signs of atherosclerosis. 

The chance of developing atherosclerosis becomes 50% at the age of 40s, and the risk goes on with the increase in age. Most of the adults of age 60 have atherosclerosis, but most of them are not aware of it because of its unnoticeable symptoms at the early phase.

Here is a list of atherosclerosis risk factors responsible for heart attacks:-

  • Abdominal obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Consumption of a high level of alcohol
  • Hypertension
  • High level of cholesterol
  • A habit of not eating fruits and vegetables
  • No physical exercise
  • Smoking
  • Stress

The rate of death due to atherosclerosis has reduced to 25% in the last 3 decades, and this happened due to a better lifestyle and improved treatment. 

Complications Associated With Atherosclerosis

Atherosclerosis results in severe and long term complications and also contributes directly to heart diseases, such as coronary heart disease, carotid heart disease, and peripheral heart disease. 

In the case of coronary heart disease, the arteries running to the heart become narrowed. Carotid artery disease is related to the brain, and the peripheral artery disease is linked with limbs.

Some other complications that are linked with atherosclerosis are:-

  • Heart failure: Atherosclerosis causes hypertension due to the blockage of an artery, which can lead to an uneven flow of blood to the body parts, including the heart and can result in heart failure.
  • Heart attack: It is a medical condition in which the supply of oxygenated blood becomes blocked, causing life-threatening.
  • Kidney Failure: Due to insufficient supply of oxygenated blood, body organs do not function well so as with the kidney that further leads to kidney failure.
  • Aneurysm: It is a condition in which the walls of an artery bulge that can sometimes cause bursting and can also lead to fatal internal bleeding.
  • Stroke: A stroke is a condition of insufficient supply of the oxygenated blood to the brain due to a blockage, causing brain cells to die.

Arrhythmia: Due to fluctuation in the circulatory system, atherosclerosis can lead to abnormal heart rhythms and palpitations.


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